The Complete Guide To Cooperative Play

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 05/23/22 •  8 min read  •  Preschool » Preschooler Play

Whether sharing a spade in a sandpit or playing a simple game of tag, cooperative play skills are essential to your child’s healthy development and ability to form relationships.

In fact… everything they say, play and do will offer them the chance to explore the world around them, establish friendships and learn what they are capable of doing.

Cooperative Play Definition

Cooperative Play Age Range

Most commonly, young children will engage in cooperative play from 4 years old and up.

They will still engage in the previous stages of play from time to time, however, after their 5th birthday, they will play in a cooperative fashion most of the time.

As always, children develop at different rates, so some children may reach this stage a little earlier or later than this. So, be patient and try not to compare your child with others.

What Stage Is Cooperative Play?

Cooperative play is the last of six stages of play that your baby will progress through as they grow up.

If you’re interested in the 6 stages of play, check out the below posts to learn more:

Why Is Cooperative Play Important?

Cooperative play is very important for children as it will form the foundation from which all future social interactions with others will be built. 

It is also the stage at which the first meaningful friendships with peers will start to develop.

Finally, it has been proven that children who are given the opportunity to engage in this type of play are more likely to succeed socially and academically at school and be less aggressive or withdrawn in a social setting.

In short, cooperative play is the ground roots from which social competence will grow.

What Are The Characteristics Of Cooperative Play?

Cooperative play is characterised when children do the following:

10 Characteristics Of Cooperative Play
  1. Playing together to achieve a common goal,
  2. Taking turns,
  3. Following rules,
  4. Sharing without prompting,
  5. Accepting the agreed roles during a play session,
  6. Communicating a desired outcome to the group,
  7. Learning from others,
  8. Being aware of others’ feelings,
  9. Discussing and listening to others’ ideas, 
  10. Playing together and being fully aware and engaged in what other children are doing.

What Is The Difference Between Parallel And Cooperative Play?

Some parents often wonder what the difference is between parallel and cooperative play…

Well, (as the name suggests) parallel play is when children play alongside each other and are aware of what the other children are doing, but they will not work together towards a common goal.

Children engaging in parallel play will enjoy being around other children but are not yet ready to share their toys or take turns willingly.

The link between parallel play and cooperative play is associative play.

This is where children will play with each other in a disorganised fashion… again with no common purpose or outcome in mind.

When they finally progress to cooperative play, you will notice that your child will be able to communicate their desired outcome and play as part of a group, working together on an activity to achieve the common goal!

Cooperative play becomes more focused and organised with collaboration as its main focus rather than self-interest.

What Is The Difference Between Social Play and Cooperative Play?

Social play and cooperative play are commonly interchanged in the parenting world.

And at their core, they are very similar.

However, some experts, myself included, believe that social play begins to develop from the day your baby is born.

This is because your newborn baby will interact with you when you talk and make eye contact with them and they coo and smile in return.

Therefore, you are engaging them on a social level and they will be getting a positive response to their interaction with you. 

Despite this, what we typically understand as ‘social play’ will not truly begin to develop until your child reaches the cooperative play stage.

As it is here when they will learn to master the skills required to thrive in social situations such as sharing, taking turns, compromising and communicating their ideas effectively.

Benefits Of Cooperative Play

Through this type of play, children will benefit from:

  1. Learning how to share
  2. Learning how to work together and take turns
  3. Dealing with the expectations of others
  4. Taking the feelings of others into consideration by listening to what they have to say
  5. Developing the ability to resolve disagreements
  6. Improving their problem-solving skills
  7. Establishing leadership qualities
  8. Developing their language and cognitive skills
  9. Teaching self-regulation
  10. Adapting to the needs of others
  11. Learning how to compromise
  12. Developing their ability to trust others
  13. Developing an early understanding of empathy

Games And Examples Of Cooperative Play

As parents, we can encourage cooperative play by simply providing the right play opportunities. 

As with all stages of play, it takes practice, so ensuring that you give your child the time and opportunities to play with others is hugely important.

Try the following cooperative play games:

Llama Llama Time to Share

Loved by families all over the world, Llama's story about learning to share his toys with his neighbours is a brilliant way of opening the conversation about how and why sharing is important to your toddler!

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The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions By Anna Llenas

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Paula McLaren

Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.